The Chr. Michelsen Prize for outstanding development research 2016 is awarded to Francesca R. Jensenius, Senior Research Fellow at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI).


Francesca R. Jensenius receives the prize for her work on the use of electoral quotas and political representation among the Scheduled Castes (SCs, the former “untouchables”) in India. In this article, she looks at the effects of electoral quotas for SCs on development. Using quantitative methods and comparing electoral districts that have had SC politicians with very similar districts that have not had SC politicians, she finds that having SCs in power does not result in changes for SCs at the electoral district level, neither on development indicators nor redistribution.

She searches for an explanation doing a series of qualitative interviews with politicians and civil servants. Drawing on evidence from these interviews she explains how SC politicians end up becoming agents of their parties rather than agents of their group, because they become integrated into the mainstream political parties. As neither the electoral system, the quota system, or party structures incentivize working for group interests, being too much of a spokesperson for SC rights compromises their chances of being re-elected.

The article “Development from Representation? A Study of Quotas for the Scheduled Castes in India” was published in American Economic Journal: Applied Economics in 2015. The jury argues that the article is a significant contribution to the study of political representation, and stresses Jensenius’ innovative use of qualitative and quantitative methods.

“The paper is a significant contribution to the study of the importance of political representation, and how other, underlying forces might limit the impacts of quotas for politically weak groups. The article uses a productive combination of qualitative and quantitative methods. In closing, Jensenius discusses alternative explanations of her findings, which strengthens the credibility of her results and interpretations. The article is very well written, and published in a highly ranked journal.”

Jensenius has had an enduring research interest in inequality and discrimination, and how legal institutions can contribute to equality. What really sparked her interest in the use of quotas in India was the massive protests against quotas she witnessed in New Delhi in the early 2000’s. India has long traditions for the use of quota systems, including quotas in politics, educational institutions and government jobs. The use of quotas in jobs and higher education has been controversial.

-When I started studying the Indian quota systems, I soon discovered that there was little research on the political quotas, even though India has one of the longest standing and most elaborate quota systems anywhere in the world. I strongly felt that this was a field in need of further research, says Jensenius.

The article is part of her PhD project, which has now developed into a forthcoming book on the consequences of electoral quotas for the Scheduled Castes. The conclusions in the book are quite optimistic. Even though there is still widespread discrimination against SCs in India, the socio-economic differences between SCs and others have decreased over time. Over time, SC politicians have also gradually become integrated into the political elite. They have become more qualified, more experienced and have entered more important and visible positions.

-Voters are equally satisfied with SC politicians and politicians from other castes. The expectations of what quotas would do in the short term may have been too high, but my research shows that electoral quotas have contributed to reducing discrimination against SCs in politics as well as in society at large. These are consequences that should not be underestimated, says Jensenius.


About the Chr. Michelsen Prize

The purpose of the Chr. Michelsen Prize for outstanding development research (50 000 NOK) is to draw attention to high-quality, relevant development research and to inspire to further research. The prize is awarded every second year by “Nationalgaven til Chr. Michelsen”, a fund which was given to Prime Minister Christian Michelsen by the Norwegian people when he resigned in 1907.

The prize is awarded to researchers under the age of 40 for an outstanding article within the field of development research. It is awarded on Chr. Michelsen’s birthday, 15 March.